Ascension: Delirium Returns to Its Deck-Building Dream WorldSeptember 10, 2018
First introduced to the gaming world in 2010, Ascension features fast-paced deck-building set in the rich fantasy setting of Vigil. The latest standalone expansion, Ascension: Delirium, returns us to the otherworldly realm of an earlier expansion, Ascension: Dreamscape.
Players wield armies via a personal deck; each starts with basic cards and builds their deck by hiring heroes and defeating monsters in an ever-changing landscape. Who will earn the most honor and be the hero to save New Vigil from its enemies?
For those familiar with the classic deck-builder Dominion, you’ll find Ascension easy to learn. Players begin with the same 10-card starter deck of Militia (combat strength) and Apprentice (runes/currency) cards. On your turn you’ll play five cards and use combat to defeat monsters or spend runes to add new heroes from the center row.
Monsters and heroes taken from the center row are immediately replaced. When a Dreamborn card appears, all players gain an Insight token. When a Dreamborn card is purchased, that player also receives an Insight token.
Heroes come in four factions (Enlightened, Lifebound, Mechana, and Void) and if heroes from the faction are played on the same turn they’ll usually offer an added bonus through the Unite effect. Constructs in each faction are cards that remain in play and offer ongoing abilities; they can be removed by other players’ cards.
After defeating any monsters, you’ll gain honor tokens from a shared pool as well as any effects. When the pool of honor tokens is depleted, the game ends after all players have taken an equal amount of turns. Everyone counts up their honor tokens and adds that amount to the total honor points earned through their hero and construct cards. Most honor points wins.
Like other Ascension expansions, Delirium offers a few new mechanisms as well as new cards to enhance the base game. Dreamborn cards and Insight tokens are brought back from Dreamscape, while Recur, Fate, and the Delirium Die are introduced into the game. The Insight tokens from Dreamscape are a welcome addition to Delirium; like the honor tokens, it’s an excellent way of maintaining a currency without clogging up your deck. I also appreciated that Insight isn’t use-it-or-lose-it, giving you the ability to save them for future turns.
Delirium differs from Dreamscape in that there is no separate Dream card deck. However, you’ll still gain an Insight token when Dreamborn cards enter the center row. Tied into the Insight tokens is the Recur action, which allows you to repeat an action on certain cards by spending the specified amount of Insight tokens; it’s another way to ramp up your abilities by using a separate currency. And trading in five Insight tokens for a roll of the Delirium die is a fun bit of randomness to determine a one-time bonus, from banishing or drawing cards to gaining honor or insight tokens.
Unfortunately, not everything works well in Delirium: the Fate auction mechanism seems out of place here. Whenever a Fate card appears in the center row, players have the option of bidding their Insight tokens to immediately gain the effect without taking the card. This reminded me of the Mercenary quick-play feature in another recent Stone Blade game, Shards of Infinity, which did the same thing as Fate, but without a pause in play.
While the Fate auctions don’t extend game time by much, it still feels awkward to stop the rhythm of fast card play that’s always been a highlight of the Ascension series. Thankfully, it’s easy to implement a house rule to ignore the Fate auction entirely.
Overall, Ascension: Delirium is a mixed bag: bringing back the Insight tokens and adding Recur actions were smart choices, while the Fate auctions were awkward at best and unnecessary at worst. It may not be the strongest expansion, but Delirium has enough new twists to satisfy both hardcore and casual Ascension players.